Louis Rodgers ’15 interns in Johns Hopkins laboratory
For many college students, summer is a season to forget their studies and head for the nearest pool or beach. Rising senior Louis Rodgers, however, is spending his time away from Centre doing research that could lead to new treatments for cancer and other diseases.
The chemistry major from Florence, Ky., is currently at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he is interning in the research group of Dr. Philip A. Cole, director of the department of pharmacology and molecular sciences and E.K. Marshall and Thomas H. Maren professor of pharmacology.
“This internship really excites me because I am finally able to practice some of the complex biochemistry laboratory techniques that I have only learned about in class at Centre,” says Rodgers.
The project to which Rodgers has been assigned is titled “Regulation of Substrate Selectivity of p300/CBP Acetyltransferase Activities,” and his job is to analyze the p300 and CBP acetyltransferases, two closely related enzymes that impact gene expression in multiple cancers.
“These enzymes are relevant in the biomedical field because defects in them lead to numerous diseases, including various cancers, progressive neurodegenerative diseases, developmental disorders and many more,” says Rodgers.
“It is exciting to think that my findings may further the understanding of biochemistry and possibly form treatments for diseases in the future,” he adds.
Over the past academic year, Rodgers served as a research assistant to Kerry Paumi, assistant professor of chemistry at Centre. Paumi, who spent time as a postdoctoral fellow in the Cole Laboratory, was instrumental in helping Rodgers secure his summer internship.
“For students in the sciences, an academic internship like the one Louis is completing is an opportunity to explore research on a different scale than you find at Centre College,” says Paumi.
“I am very excited for Louis to experience the environment of Dr. Cole’s lab and the pharmacology department at Johns Hopkins,” she continues. “Johns Hopkins is an incredible training institution, and during his time there Louis will build and strengthen his creative thinking and problem-solving skills in new ways.”
Rodgers is supervised this summer by Beth Zucconi, a postdoctoral fellow who cites some of the benefits of internship experiences (pictured right with Rodgers). “Undergraduate interns acquire new skills, are exposed to novel research and are taught how to analyze and ask pertinent questions,” she says. “At the same time, they expedite the acquisition of data and enable senior lab members to learn mentoring skills.”
Zucconi notes that scientific research is a challenging enterprise. “It requires the self-discipline of hard work, the determination to overcome challenges and the teachability to learn from the guidance of others and work on a global team,” she says.
The work can be difficult, Rodgers admits. “I need to be extremely careful with everything I do,” he says. “We are doing enzyme assays, so messing up a reaction buffer or failing to follow the exact time course of the experiments could kill the enzyme and yield inaccurate data.
“I also deal with carbon-14, a radioactive isotope, so I must be extremely careful not to spill the chemicals and to keep myself and others in the lab safe.”
Rodgers received support for this summer’s internship from the Centre Internship Plus program and from a grant to the College by the James Graham Brown Foundation. “I couldn’t have afforded this experience without the funding I received,” he says.
The rising senior has not yet decided on a specific career path, though he knows he would like to enter the field of medicine. “This internship gives me the chance to see what research is like at a large institution,” he says. “It will enable me to form connections in the fields of pharmacology and biomedicine, and will help me differentiate between my desire to obtain a PhD, MD or MD/PhD after my undergraduate education at Centre.”
by Laurie Pierce